Sex sting stirring debate over who should patrol County parks

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- An undercover sex sting this week at Milwaukee County parks is stirring debate about who should patrol the parks. A proposal in next year's County budget would shift responsibility from the County to the city.

During his budget address a few months ago, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele criticized the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office for not doing enough patrols at the parks. He believes cities like Wauwatosa, Milwaukee and others should patrol the parks themselves.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke says arrests made this week at Milwaukee County parks show his policies are working.

"One of the benefits of us with our countywide jurisdiction is you have a consistent application," Sheriff Clarke said.

Sheriff Clarke says there's been an increase in complaints from park-goers.

"They get solicited.  They get grabbed.  They'll go into the public bathroom there and get followed," Sheriff Clarke said.

This week, undercover Sheriff's deputies arrested a total of 11 men -- all accused of indecent activity at County parks. In one case, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Chorus Director Lee Erickson is accused of following a deputy into a public bathroom, exposing himself and performing a sex act in front of the officer.

"Estabrook Park has had a history of this.  Underwood Park.  Grant.  There are some other ones," Sheriff Clarke said.

In the County's 2014 budget proposal, the responsibility of patrolling the parks would be shifted from the Sheriff's Office to the city level. Milwaukee police, for example, would get roughly a million dollars from the County to monitor the Lakefront and other nearby parks.

It's a response to criticism the Sheriff's Office hasn't done enough to patrol these areas in the past.

Sheriff Clarke says he has conducted stings like this for the last decade, but couldn't say how many arrests he has made for lewd conduct at the parks earlier this year, or for all of last year.

Some communities like Wauwatosa have already agreed to take on the responsibility.

County Supervisor Ted Lipscomb says most of his colleagues will not support the change.

"They're not all capable of patrolling the parks at the level that many of us believe need patrol. The recent arrests the Sheriff's Office made in several parks display how the Sheriff's Office is uniquely qualified to take a multi-jurisdictional approach to do special patrols," Lipscomb said.

County Executive Abele's office released the following statement:

"County Executive Abele's public safety initiative, including the parks patrol changes, is a coordinated and targeted plan that has support of the Milwaukee Police Department, the District Attorney's Office, the House of Correction and suburban police. On top of that, the budget calls for spending 22 percent of the tax levy on the Sheriff's Office."

FOX6 News has learned Erickson, one of the men arrested this week, is also the music director at St. Anthony School. He has been suspended from that position as well as from the MSO pending this investigation.